What to Look for in Spring


As the evenings slowly but surely start to provide us with welcome extra light, we also have the opportunity to enjoy our
woodlands that little bit longer, providing us with the rich sights and sounds of birds and their song, as they gear themselves
up for the breeding season.

There is a wonderful atmosphere created by the embers of a fine March day with the beautiful sounds of the song thrush
echoing through the twilight. The characteristic notes, repeated two or three times "did-he-do-it....did-he-do-it" -
"yes-he-did......yes-he-did" are almost solemn and mournful. If you listen to the calls carefully, you can hear the vast range
of warbles, chuckles and pure sweet notes that are copied from a variety of other birds and sounds. The song thrush likes
to sing from a high position, though not as often as the mistle thrush. Look out for them at the top of tall trees, lamp posts,
roofs and church spires.

Song thrush (Turdus philomelos)


Their presence can often be confirmed by the discovery of an 'anvil', where snail shells are bashed against a stone or rock,
enabling the thrush to gain access to the tasty snack the shell protects.

Superstition suggested that the song thrush was deaf and strangely, at the age of ten years, the thrush would dispose of its
legs and grow new ones! The most unfortunate belief of all for the bird, was that its flesh would cure sickness and convulsions.


April sees a real surge in activity and growth, especially with the warm spell we are all enjoying. This activity can be clearly
seen along our rivers and burns. From the first red shoots of meadowsweet forcing their way through the earth, willow
resplendent with its contrasting array of unfurling leaves and fluffy catkins and the busy and regular patrols of the dipper,
as it marks out its watery territory. The dipper is a curious wren like bird and a lover of fast flowing, shallow water.
It is unique in its ability to slip under the surface and walk along the bed in search of food such as tadpoles and small fish.

Dipper (Cinclus cinclus)

The first sign of a dipper nearby is often the Zit - Zit call note as it whirrs along the course of the river, usually close
to the surface, providing a fleeting glimpse. However, its rich and varied song is usually delivered from a rock or stone,
giving the chance of a longer sighting of this active little bird. It is just as well named for its underwater abilities as
for its habit of bobbing up and down while perched on a rock. It is also known as piet, water blackbird, water crow,
water peggie and brook ouzel, the latter being a reference to the white breast patch it shares with the upland ring
ouzel. Its gaelic name translates as blacksmith, probably referring to its dark back. Look out for dippers along the
Afton Water, River Lugar, River Irvine and River Ayr.

Our riverbanks and damp meadows are welcoming the emergence of a delicate wildflower which is very symbolic of the
month of April, the cuckoo flower. Its name is thought to originate from its appearance around the time the first cuckoo
is heard. The four, fairly large petals often vary in colour from pink and lilac through to white. Orange tip butterflies
use the plant for both food and in order to lay their distinctive orange eggs. Also known as lady's smock, milkmaid and
carsons it was traditionally used to treat scurvy, epilepsy and fevers. The plant is often covered in what has been called
'cuckoo-spit' or 'frog-spit' and is produced by a small bug called a froghopper, which produces this frothy 'spit' as a
means of protection. Though the majority of folklore surrounding the plant is concerned with the gentle progression
through spring, one belief is that the cuckoo flower would result in a lightning strike if brought indoors.



In May, our woodlands of East Ayrshire are alive with the calls and songs of our summer visitors, adding to the rich
array of sounds from our resident species. One of the sweetest of songs belongs to the blackcap, a distinctive warbler
with a beautifully rich, fluty warble that reverberates through the unfurling spring foliage of our woodlands. The male
blackcap, as the name suggests, has a striking black cap covering the top half of the head, down to the eye, while the
female has an equally striking chestnut colour cap. Local names include mock nightingale, black-headed hay jack, coal
hoodie and nettle creeper.

Blackcaps are increasingly found around gardens during the winter months and are particularly fond of peanut feeders,
while the vast majority remain summer migrant visitors from Central and Southern Europe. The blackcap is fond of
deciduous and mixed woodland with dense undergrowth in which it can nest. Listen out for the lovely flute-like warbling,
providing a sharp contrast to the si-si-si-si-see-see-seee of the returning
willow warblers.

While our woodland canopy is alive with newly returned birdsong, our woodland floors are resplendent with the rich
tapestry of emerging colour. The small, delicate moschatel can be seen at present, low down on the woodland floor.
The small, pale greenish yellow flowers are arranged like a cube, which gave rise to the name of 'town hall clock'.
It emits a strong musk like scent, particularly as evening falls, adding its own little bit of atmosphere to our woodlands
at dusk.